Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vive La Paris

Esme Raji Codell's writing makes you feel good. She has the ear of a teacher who has sat in the back of the classroom and really listened to what matters to young people. She shows the heart in all of her characters, including the ones that you really want to write off.

Vive Le Paris is the companion novel to Sahara Special, which I loved so much. It's fun to check back in on the characters in Miss Pointy's class and see how they've grown under her care. For the most part, though, Paris' story takes place outside of the classroom. She's got a fun, loving family with four older brothers and takes piano lessons from Mrs. Rosen, an elderly Holocaust survivor. Over the course of a few months, she learns about bullying, ignorance, nonviolence, and seeing the world through 'rose-colored glasses'.

There is so much to love here, as a reader and as a teacher. At my middle school in The Bahamas, none of the students had heard about the Holocaust before we began a unit on it. I also remember that middle school was when we really delved into learning about World War II. Vive La Paris is geared towards a younger age group, so could be used as an introduction to the Holocaust. It could be read independently over the summer, and then referred back to during the year. This is a novel that kids will love to read, with lots of lessons tucked in.

Vive La Paris is also really funny. In describing her brother's friend, Paris says, "He wears button-down shirts and has glasses like Malcolm X, but he's white, and believe me, on a white boy those glasses got a whole different effect." At first I wanted to say that there are so many humorous throwaway lines, but the reality is that all of the lines are beautifully crafted and intentional.

Finally, I appreciate that the cover actually reflects what happens in the book. There are a lot of details that show the illustrator (whose name I couldn't find) read the novel. She probably loved it too!

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